By Gavin Menu
This is definitely it.
So says Carl Johnson, the four-time state champion head coach of the Bridgehampton boys basketball team, who flirted with retirement last winter before deciding to return for one more year — his 26th season at the helm of the program — alongside senior Elijah Jackson, the last remaining starter from the Bees’ state championship team of 2015.
“He wanted me to finish his career with him,” Johnson said in an interview this week, insisting that this, indeed, will be his final year as head coach at Bridgehampton. “I had time to rest and think about it and I said ‘I’m going to give 100 percent of me and I expect the same in return.’ We’ll see if they keep up their end of the bargain.”
Bridgehampton graduated two cornerstones of the program last spring in Tylik Furman and Josh Lamison, whose decorated careers ended with a 67-56 loss to Clark Academy in a Class D state regional final.
Jackson is not the only returning senior as Elijah Harding, Max Cheng, Maurice Mungin and Kevin Feliciano are also expected to be important contributors. Sophomore J.P. Harding is a surefire starter and Johnson is hoping to see him mature in his second year on varsity.
“He has a tremendous amount of athletic ability and he had some great games for us last year,” Johnson said about the younger Harding. “He hit a wall halfway through the season, so hopefully he shows some maturity.”
Johnson expects Freshman Naéjon Ward to replace Furman as the team’s staring point guard, and has been encouraged by what he has seen in practice so far.
“He was on junior high here and played JV for one year in Southampton,” Johnson explained. “He’s got a lot to carry on his shoulders.”
Elijah White is another freshman on the roster, but Johnson said the player with the most to carry this season will be Jackson, whose deft outside shooting will need to be complemented by more of an inside game as well, according to his coach.
“Last year he showed me he could get to the basket, and this year he’s going to have to show me even more,” Johnson said. “His defense is going to have to improve as well.”
Bridgehampton will compete, as usual, in League VIII but has a tough non-league schedule in the early going, with the season-opener at Wyandanch, a Class A school, on December 3 followed by four straight games against Class B and Class C schools from League VII, including the home opener against Center Moriches on December 12. The team will also play in the Holiday Classic at Suffolk County Community College with an opener against Sachem East on December 28 at 5:45 p.m.
“If you look at our schedule, we have a really difficult schedule this year,” Johnson said. “We have those crossover games, which are going to be important for us. In order for us to be a championship team you have to finish toward the top of your league.”